- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 2, 2006

BLACKSBURG, Va. — Most discussion of Virginia Tech over the last six months has begun and ended with the raw offense, but today the Hokies defense wants to change the conversation.

“We feel like it’s all bottled up and now it’s time to explode,” said senior defensive end Noland Burchette. “Northeastern’s the team that took it upon themselves to come in here and they’re going to be the first.”

Division I-AA Northeastern, a late replacement for Wisconsin, arrives in Blacksburg as a $375,000 hors d’oeuvre to be served up in Lane Stadium in front of a maximum-capacity crowd of 66,233. The Huskies have played Division I-A teams only four times — going 2-2 — and are coming off a 2-9 season in 2005. Northeastern’s official Web site calls Virginia Tech “arguably its most challenging opponent ever.”

“I think the most important part for us is, where are we as a football team?” said Tech coach Frank Beamer. “And that’s … defensively, can we play fast and be the defense we think we can be? Offensively, can we move the football? Special teams, can we block a kick, return kicks? We’ll find out a lot about us.”

With the nation’s top defensive unit of 2005 returning hard-hitters like Burchette, Chris Ellis at end, linebacker Xavier Adibi, and Aaron Rouse at rover, the 17th-ranked Hokies may find out that their defense is better than ever. Ellis already has said he expects his side of the ball to match what the Hokies offense puts on the scoreboard. And Rouse says Northeastern shouldn’t look for the Hokies to take the smaller school lightly.

“I mean, it’s the first game of the season,” Rouse said. “You have to get up, you have to go out there and set the tone. whether it’s Northeastern or USC or North Carolina, I mean anybody. It’s the first game of the season. You’re eager to show the world what you’ve got.”

This is a far different season opener from the one Rouse played in 2004 against Southern Cal at FedEx Field, but for the young offense it allows for a nice transition into ACC play next week at North Carolina.

“That’s a month of pure nervousness and pure adrenaline driving through,” senior center Danny McGrath said. “But to get our feet wet for some of the new guys — our two starting new guards, new quarterback — it’s a formidable challenge to see where we are as an offense.”

After scrimmaging their own banging defenders since the opening of fall practice, the Hokies offense hopes to find more gaps today than they’ve seen in months — and they’ll need to. Sophomore quarterback Sean Glennon, who redshirted last year, will be making his first start in five collegiate appearances; sophomore tailback Branden Ore returns after missing winter workouts and spring practice for shoulder surgery; and redshirt freshman Greg Boone will be making his first appearance at tight end.

The guards at both ends, highly touted freshman Sergio Render on the right side and sophomore Ryan Shuman on the left, are making their first collegiate starts.

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